South Africa's Future will be Determined by How We Solve Our Politics, Not by the World Cup

By Saliem Fakir · 25 Jun 2010

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Picture: Axel Buhrmann
Picture: Axel Buhrmann

World Cup soccer fever has swept across the country creating much euphoria and mesmerisation about South Africa’s ability to host the event and be part of the big league, as we have always strived to be.

The country seems to be caught in some sort of ecstatic purgatory.

Newspaper pages are filled with reports about what is happening on and off the soccer field. Gossip abounds, analysis of team performance is endless and national politics have taken a backseat for now -- to be replaced by football politics and off-pitch gossip.

Nothing, as well, will stop the tidal wave of patriotic display.

It is hard to ascribe any particular reason for such an overwhelming display of excitement -- flags, more flags and vuvuzelas everywhere. It is one of the anomalies of our country and seriously very hard not to join in the festivities.

The din of the inter-factional fracas within the ruling party, as well as the drama of the opposition, featuring the Democratic Alliance’s messy toilet squabbles and the Congress of the People’s (COPE’s) divisive party politics lies suppressed for the moment. Citizens will not allow any of the country’s troubles and hotspots of dissidence to interrupt this once in a lifetime soccer feast.

It’s hard to be a critic in these times. One stands accused of being a spoiler if one shows any sign of cynicism. After all, who is to say we shouldn’t be having our moment of levitation to take us into a dream-like state far from where feet touch earth and where we can momentarily forget?

But one also has a hard time being convinced that once this euphoria is over, South Africa will somehow be starting with a clean slate.

Despite flying high and rubbing the noses of Afro-sceptics into the mud, it is questionable whether the fleeting fete of pulling off the World Cup will have lasting effects on the future of the economy, race relations and the grinding poverty that is our most embarrassing indictment.

The party will come to an end on the 12th of July and then it will be back to work tackling the country’s numerous challenges.

Getting beyond the World Cup will require steady politics on a fractured political landscape that will still dog us long after the feel-good effects of the mega event have worn out.

At its heart, South Africa Inc.’s future and success depends on an enlightened leadership. On this account, there are few Vuvuzelas to blow.

From this display of synthetic unity that the World Cup has created lays the truth of our betrayed hopes and desires all of which point to what is missing in our national politics.

South Africa’s national politics is in complete disarray posing a threat to our democracy and undermining our ability to eradicate poverty and eliminate inequality.

While there is glee from some quarters that COPE will fail entirely or split into two, and that its meaningfulness as an opposition party will be put to the test; this should not necessarily be viewed as good for the country.

COPE would literally become part of the ANC’s broad church faction certifying its death in advance.

The fact that the courts have reinstated ‘Terror’ Lekota is to be viewed as a temporary respite for the faltering leader and his ability to pull COPE together. The putative head, Mvume Dandala, is on his way out and nobody seems to mind.

However, winning political battles through courts rather than one’s constituency only entrenches bitterness and the deep divide. COPE is unlikely to recover from this acrimonious internal fighting. The damage to its image is irrecoverable. It’s a party that has diminished future prospects. 

COPE, though, is an abject lesson of where the ANC can go if not already heading in that direction.

Wary eyes are cast towards the ruling party and its ability to manage the few years remaining of the Zuma presidency before the ANC is so torn apart that it has lost full control over the party itself.

Since the ANC is the dominant party, its own state of health will affect the mood and overall condition of the country. In many respects, the ANC’s broad church of camps and ideas was its strength, which other opposition parties lacked and looked upon with envious eyes. Through it’s broad church the ANC, essentially, reached far, wide and deep.

However, weak leadership disabuses the party of its strengths and what it would be replaced by is perhaps the most worrisome prospect not only for the party, but also for the country as a whole. 

The effect of in fighting in the ruling party is also being felt at state level. State institutions function less effectively if they are torn by tensions fuelled by divided loyalties.

But the fact that the ruling party is not aware of its own invidious condition would be to judge it wrongly.

There are already rumours that the divisions within the ANC are so deep - between the principled stalwarts and the new breed of tenderpreneurs - that President Jacob Zuma has placed around himself, senior politicians (five or six senior politicians from within the cabinet and one or two others who hold no position in government, but who are a critical part of Zuma’s advisors) to oversee the running of the country, while he gives another go at solving party divisions.

He has a tough task at hand. Polokwane was an artificial unity between the ANC and its tripartite alliance partners.

The recent attempt to rap over the knuckles the country’s leading trade unionist, Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s General Secretary, on trumped up charges of party ill discipline has threatened the ANC’s relations with its alliance partner.

It’s not certain why Vavi is being singled out, but it may have something to do with him asking the ANC to clean up and revive it’s tradition of being the party that holds fast to honourable values.

Vavi may be a threat to the tenderpreneurs, as there is a clamour to defend certain personalities above others for key positions within state parastatals that will have a hand in the rollout of government’s R800bn infrastructure programme.

Given their sizeable public sector membership and base, the unions do have a say over how parastatals are run. If they wanted, they could use their clout as a force for good within these structures as they have proven time and again. 

The South African Communist Party (SACP) itself seems edgy despite having key members of their leadership carrying seniority within the party and state. It is sometimes hard to pierce through the SACP’s rhetoric to tell how much is grand standing and how much is real intent.

In the meantime and the coming months, we should be less distracted by COPE and focus on what is going on in the ruling party. It is vitality important that we pay attention.

Who wins the war in the ANC will determine whether there is a zero sum game with respect to public coffers as opposed to the wise use of public monies for the good of the whole country.

Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town.

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25 Jun

World Cup Blah Blah

"If you listen to German politicians, it seems the World Cup is expected to help us solve just about every problem facing the country: it will apparently create new jobs, provide companies with rising profits, increase gross domestic product by half a per cent, and

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28 Jun

Courageous Reminder

Thanks for this Saliem! A timely and courageous reminder... amidst all the fanfare! Whilst some may argue that its best to suspend all critical thought during this euphoric period , for others the reality of the after-party debris weighs heavy...

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